4th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10
Someone once said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” With our history, as people who live in the most powerful country on earth, we don’t need to go far to see the evidence of that statement. Only a few words are necessary: Tea Pot Dome, Watergate, Chappaquiddick, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinski. And then we get to more recent history: A former Senator of a nearby state, with hopes of becoming President is caught lying about an affair that produced a baby while his own wife was battling cancer. A Governor of a nearby state, disappears, but he’s not where his office said he was; he’s in South America visiting his soul mate at taxpayers expense and to his wife’s great sorrow. A Governor of a mid-western State is indicted and convicted for trying to sell a vacant seat to the U.S. Senate.
When we see the shame and disgrace that is experienced by these people of power, we wonder how they fell so easily; how they did not see the temptations that come with their power. Most of all, we might wonder how they can pick up what’s left of their lives in the aftermath of their own public moral failures.
This morning, we consider a powerful political figure; and how he was finally brought to account for his wrongdoing. The story is one that, had it happened today, and given the identity of the defendant, would be splashed on the cover of every major newspaper, not just the tabloids. The story would give the 24/7 TV news outlets a headline for months to come. Shock and expose programs like Jerry Springer would be frantically searching for anyone who had a connection to the case. This has all the makings of a page one, blockbuster story. Wrongful use of government power, sexual impropriety, murder, a coverup conspiracy, a special prosecutor, and finally an extracted confession. Ah, but that’s not where the story ends. You see, unlike the usual ripped from the headline cases that we see end in “disgrace;” this one ends in grace, and forgiveness. Now there’s a word that is seldom heard in circles of the powerful and rich: forgiveness. That’s really where this story takes us this morning. Into the:
Due Process of Forgiveness
The charges were part of the public record. There were no cell phone videos of the crime. And even though there were plenty of witnesses to the crime, no subpoenas seem to have been issued. But a judge, let’s say, ...THE judge had already authorized a special prosecutor to take charge of the indictment. ...They had the goods on this guy. The only problem was, he was at the very pinnacle of political power. How will he be confronted with his crime? ... First a look into the actual crime.
The first charge was adultery with his next-door neighbor, who then becomes pregnant. Then the defendant follows the already existing tradition of a political cover-up. The big-shot politician cannot risk the scandal. So, he has the woman’s husband; a very loyal soldier, killed. But like most powerful people he didn’t get his own hands dirty, he used the people in his government to get it done. That’s the second charge: Not just murder, but conspiracy to commit murder. It was a crime that would have had Hollywood producers scrambling for the movie-rights. The murder is one that took some careful planning. The soldier, the lover’s husband, was sent out to the front lines of battle. The commander of the army then withdrew his troops leaving the victim out there to be killed by enemy troops. Seemed like a good plan, ...just one of the casualties of war. No one would be the wiser.
Then after she becomes a war widow, the woman with whom the political figure committed adultery, moves next door as his wife; actually one of his wives. And it seems as if he was getting away with it. No one would dare confront him with such a heartless and cruel crime. Well, hardly anyone. But the judge, again that is, THE judge, appoints a special prosecutor, who also had been an advisor to the leader. So he goes to the leader to very carefully and tactfully advise him of the charges against him. Imagine what would have happened had he gone to see the leader and said, “There’s a rumor going around that you had sex with one of your officers’ wives and then had him killed. Let’s talk about this.” The special prosecutor would have probably been drafted into the army and been sent to the front lines as the murdered soldier’s replacement.
So he confronts the politician in a more subtle way, through a story. This makes sense, doesn’t it. None of us like to be confronted directly with our mis-deeds. Our first response is usually, “I did not! How dare you accuse me!” Or maybe, “Hey, who gives you the right to accuse me. Don’t you know who I am?” ...But the special prosecutor knew a little about human nature. His name was Nathan. He knew the defendant was a very popular leader, so he had to sort of sneak up on him with the charges. When Nathan met with the leader, he said:
“There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
The beauty of this approach by the prosecutor is evident. He’s not pointing a finger. It seems like Nathan is asking for advice in a criminal matter, over which the leader has jurisdiction. By the way, this is no ordinary leader. ...This adulterer, this murderer, the one who cooked up the conspiracy, this man who mis-used his power, allowed himself to be corrupted, was a person that God called “a man after my own heart.” This political leader, as are all political leaders, was put into office by God himself. He was chosen by God, from among all his brothers who stood head and shoulders above him, to become King; King David. And under ordinary circumstances, David was a good judge of character. So, he makes a finding about the case that Nathan has just presented. We’re told:
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Only problem is, King David is not the judge. Although he has just been judged by his own words, he is not THE judge. Many of us are quick to judge the wrong behavior of those whose stories we hear; but when the finger gets pointed at us, ...well, ...it’s a different story. And, sad to say, we have a major shortage of Nathan’s in our world today. We might pretend we are in this thing together; we might say we are each responsible for the other, ...but we lack the courage to go to our brother or sister in Christ and say what Nathan will says next! ...And, if we are the one who has fallen into sin, we react harshly when someone tries to approach us about our own shortcomings. For this, dear brothers and sisters, we are severely handicapped. But God gave us an example of how we are to pursue the due process of forgiveness:
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
Nathan’s words were both condemning and the ...first step in the due process of forgiveness. The words I spoke a while ago: “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” ...David had done an ...awful thing. But David was also a ...good man. The two truths do not wipe each other out. They simply exist at the same time. So the prosecutor came to the king with charges against an unnamed defendant. The first step in the due process of forgiveness is to acknowledge, to be made aware of our sin. Why do you think all of these powerful people fall so hard? Because no one will ...dare show them where they are wrong! We become a respecter of persons. “Don’t you know I am too big to fail?”
A well-regarded parish pastor who developed a successful radio ministry tells this story on himself. A member of his congregation came to his office without an appointment. He did not know the man well, though he attended services regularly.
“Tell me,” the man asked his pastor, “is there anyone in this congregation who can tell you when you are full of it?”
The pastor thought for a while and answered, “I don’t think so.”
“Then you’re in trouble,” the man said and left.
Then the pastor realized that he was wrong. There was at least one member of the congregation who could tell him what he needed to hear; the one who just left his office.
Do you have a Nathan figure around you? Someone who will say the truth in love, even when it hurts? Do you listen to him/her? It’s what is necessary in the due process of forgiveness.
This Nathan, the original Nathan, did not mince words, after David had been made to see his sin. He told him directly and honestly what he had done that displeased the Lord. None of this “What did he know and when did he know it.” – No, David was guilty as charged and all he could do was fall on the mercy of the court, which he, thankfully, did: David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Dear brothers and sister, why do we have such a hard time saying it? This second step in the due process of forgiveness is absolutely necessary.
No making excuses or trying to minimize what you’ve done. And no trivializing our wrong behavior in the way that is popular today, saying “My bad,” and then without hearing anything more, we think no more about our wrong actions. Yes, we admit it. Like Fonzi, we say, “I was wr-r-r-r-ong!” And like David, we say, “I have sinned against the Lord.” The fear of this confession is gone when we trust in the promise: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins!” I think that’s what you said, a little while ago.
Too often, we act like a defendant in a criminal court case, and plead the fifth, “on the grounds that it may incriminate me.” Did you know that the fifth amendment to the constitution is one of the places we find the words, “due process?” But those words are in a different realm, where we are guaranteed certain rights. It’s about the due process of law. What God wants us to know is the due process of forgiveness. First we need someone, through whom the Holy Spirit will convict us of our transgression; and then we need to come clean – confess our sin and plea for mercy from God. That’s two steps, now the final step in the due process in forgiveness. Hearing the sweetest words a ...condemned sinner ...will ever hear.
Often they come from the same mouth as the one who confronts you: Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. Friends, that’s what we should think each time we hear the words of forgiveness. “It’s gone! My sin is gone! ...I once was lost! Now I’m found, hallelujah! ...Once was blind, but now, ...I see. Praise God! I was living in death row, but ...I’ve gotten a reprieve; I was once a dead man walking but now ...I’ve been made brand new, Given a new lease on life!” So, what’s our part? What do we have to do in all this? ...One thing, ...believe IT! That’s the third part of the due process of forgiveness – Trust in the forgiveness that was won for us on the Cross; ...that the Pastor or someone else has just announced to me. I’m saying that, from the perspective of the sinner, which is who we are.
If, however, we are the one who has confronted and forgiven the sinner, then the third part of due process means that we are to ...forget it. If we’ve announced God’s forgiveness to someone who has hurt us, we then need to let it go! We don’t respond to their confession with, “That’s alright.” No, we say, ...“I forgive you.” Those are the right words and what they mean is that I will never bring it up again. It’s gone!
Booker T. Washington, wrestled much of his life with the difficulties of forgiveness but found the path to victory. He said, “When I saw the injuries and insults hurled against my people, I grew to hate white men. I hated them until my soul dried up. Then I took my hatred to Jesus Christ. He took the hatred out of my heart. He showed me how to forgive and how to love white men.” From the offended person, that’s the due process of forgiveness, whether someone has snubbed you or hurt your business or killed your loved one. Stand at the foot of the cross, look to Him who hangs there, ask Him to give you His love.
We are Confronted, we Confess and we Believe the words. May God ever keep the due process of forgiveness in our hearts and minds. AMEN